By Steven Norris
“I just want things to go back to normal.”
If I had a dollar for every time that I’ve heard that phrase uttered over the past few weeks, I’d have a pretty healthy vacation fund going. The truth is that most of us are over it. We are done. We are ready for something that feels more familiar. We’re ready for hugs and handshakes. We’re ready for parties and going out to lunch with friends after church. We’re ready to exchange social distancing for some social nearness. We are ready for some semblance of “normal.”
I recently came across an interesting quote, however, that gives me pause. A British novelist and children’s book author commented, “Yes lockdown poses its own mental health challenges. But can we please stop pretending our former world of long working hours, stressful commutes, hectic crowds, shopping centres, infinite choice, mass consumerism, air pollution and 24/7 everything was a mental utopia?”
To what “normal” do we really want to return? Is it possible that this current experience has forced us to press the pause button and has unmasked some of the real sickness in our own hearts? Workaholism. Chronic busy-ness. Unending consumption. Ignoring our neighbor. Is that really the “normal” to which we want to return.
During our morning prayer times, members of our church have been reading through the book of Numbers together. It takes place in the days after God delivered the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. On the back side of ten horrific plagues, God freed the Israelite slaves and was in the process of leading them to the Promised Land.
Yet, time and time again, a murmuring arose among the people. Frustration turned to grumbling. Grumbling turned to outright complaint. Complaints took shape in words like these: “Oh, for some meat! We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onion, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we see is this manna.”
More than one time, they tried to appoint new leaders who would take them back to Egypt, conveniently forgetting the former life of slavery that awaited them.
Oh how easy it is to see the past through rose-colored glasses. Was life in Egypt really an endless supply of meat? Was slavery really an all-you-can-eat buffet? It seems unlikely to me.
I can’t help but wonder if something similar isn’t going on right before us. I fear that the cries for normalcy will become nothing more than a charter document for the “Back to Egypt Committee.”
As for me, I’m not sure that I want to go back to normal – at least, not entirely. This “forced Sabbath” has reminded me that God has created rhythms in the universe that we have long neglected. Work and rest. Joy and Sorrow. Conversation and silence.
I can’t help but wonder if there is a Promised Land on the other side of this plague to which God is leading us. I sure hope we don’t miss it because the gentle whisper of the Spirit gets drowned out by the cries to return to the “normalcy” of life in Egypt.